The Clark-Skidmore Party
In 1852 concerns about economic slumps and social conflict prompted the businessmen of Columbia to dispatch a delegation of men across the Sierra Nevada to convince arriving emigrants to come to the Southern Mines by a new trail. The small scouting party located what they hoped would be a feasible route and then encamped on the Carson River, talking to emigrants and extolling the virtues of a wonderful new trail that had just opened up to Tuolumne County. Leading the Columbia delegation was Joseph Morehead, a man of questionable credentials.
While most emigrants were suspicious of Morehead's claims of a shorter and easier trail to the mines, the fifty men of the Clark-Skidmore Party from Ohio and Indiana decided to risk the new route. Guided by Morehead, they turned south with their thirteen wagons to follow the Walker River. The early section of the route was much the same as that of the Bidwell Party in 1841, but once they turned into the mountains they were on their own.
After about a week they reached Leavitt Meadow at the foot of Sonora Pass on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. The emigrants realized they would not make it to Sonora without help, so Morehead and several others set out on horseback to obtain supplies.
While they were gone, the remaining emigrants struggled to bring the wagons as far into the mountains as they could, following a route several miles south of today's Sonora Pass highway. What the emigrants didn't know was that Morehead and his party had become lost. When the relief supplies didn't appear, small groups of emigrants struck out on foot for the mines. Finally the last remaining emigrants were forced to abandon the wagons and follow the example of their colleagues.
When they reached a valley on the headwaters of the Stanislaus River many were sick and all were hungry. They camped along a small stream at the foot of a peak today known as East Flange Rock. It was there that Morehead and the relief train finally met them, thus giving the location the name of Relief Camp. Morehead's group had eventually found their way to Sonora and Columbia, gathered a pack train of supplies, and had returned up the trail.
With the fresh provisions many of the remaining emigrants returned for the wagons and brought them over the mountains without mishap, following a route that became known as the Walker River Trail. The trail crossed the Sierra crest six miles south of the modern Sonora Pass and then followed the ridges down to today's Dodge Ridge, Pinecrest and Twain Harte. The weary emigrants were eventually greeted in Columbia with a party in their honor.
Although the press and even the members of the Clark-Skidmore Party praised the new trail, the route would prove to be among the most difficult of the emigrant trails across the Sierra Nevada.
One of the best accounts of the overland migration along the California Trail is George R. Stewart's The California Trail.